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Advising Patients

About Herbs and

Nutraceuticals: Tips
f o r Pr i m a r y C a re
P ro v i d e r s
Erica Lovett, MD*, Neelima Ganta, MD

 Herbal  Nutraceutical  Dietary supplements
 Integrative medicine
 Complementary and alternative medicine

Herbal remedies and nutraceuticals are used in many households in the United States.
According to a 2007 study from the National Center for Complementary and Alterna-
tive Health (NCCAM) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one third of adults and
one tenth of children used some form of complementary and alternative medicine
(CAM) within the last month, with herbal and other supplements being the most
frequently used CAM modality.1 Physicians and patients may be interested in natural
forms of healing, but they often have differing perspectives. Many health care
providers are not comfortable discussing these products, their side effects, or poten-
tial interactions with their patients; however, patients desire their physicians to do so.
Moreover, patients report using herbals and nutraceuticals regardless of their physi-
cians knowledge base or acceptance of these products.2 This article discusses basic
issues surrounding the use of a number of popular herbs and nutraceuticals other than
vitamins and minerals, with the intent of enabling providers to openly discuss their use
with patients.


Some health care providers are uncomfortable discussing herbal remedies and nutra-
ceuticals with their patients because they did not learn about them in medical school,
there are few evidence-based guidelines to guide use, and they are unfamiliar with
potential supplement-drug interactions. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration

Central Maine Medical Center Family Medicine Residency, 76 High Street, Lewiston, ME 04210,
* Corresponding author.
E-mail address: (E. Lovett).

Prim Care Clin Office Pract 37 (2010) 1330

0095-4543/10/$ see front matter 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
14 Lovett & Ganta

(FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements the way it does medications; providers
may not be familiar with supplement manufacturing standards or how to advise
patients about choosing different supplement brands.
Some regulation does exist. In 1994, the United States Congress enacted the Die-
tary Supplements Health and Education Act.3 This legislation outlines the regulation of
herbals, vitamins, minerals, and other natural health products. Under the Act, manu-
facturers have a responsibility to substantiate the safety of their products and make
claims about their products only if they are backed by adequate evidence to show
that they are not false or misleading. A difference between pharmaceutical regulation
and herbal product regulation is that this protection under the Act is postmarketing;
manufacturers need not prove safety before distribution. Pharmaceuticals, in contrast,
must be FDA approved before sale.
The United States Pharmacopeia ( is an independent, not-for-profit
organization that evaluates the effectiveness and safety of herbal products. Although
other organizations may provide similar services, no other United States organization
that evaluates supplements is recognized under federal law as the nations official
standard-setting body. United States Pharmacopeia standards are enforceable by
the FDA.
In 2002, the United States Pharmacopeia designated a voluntary-optional program
for manufacturers to obtain the United States Pharmacopeia quality seal. This volun-
tary program will become mandatory for all companies after 2010. Following current
good manufacturing practices is no longer optional as it was in the past for supple-
ment manufacturers. The current good manufacturing practices industry-wide rules
require that dietary supplements are manufactured consistently with regards to iden-
tity, purity, strength, and composition (no heavy metals); laboratory inspection (sanita-
tion and safety); accurate labeling; and effective release into the body.4 The new
current good manufacturing practices standards are a step in the right direction in
providing better-quality, consistent products across all suppliers.


The new regulatory standards are essential, given that a significant proportion of the
United States population uses dietary supplements. The National Health Survey of
2007 included 23,393 adults 18 years of age and older and 9417 children 17 years
of age and younger. According to this survey, 30% to 44% of adults age 18 to 84,
22% of adults 85 and older, and 7% to 16% of children used a CAM therapy within
the last month.1 Nutraceuticals and herbal preparations are the most commonly
used therapy in the United States. Nearly 18% of adults and 4% of children in the
United States use nonvitamin, nonmineral, natural products.1 Other, earlier studies
evaluating CAM and supplement use demonstrated similar or slightly higher propor-
tions of individuals (14%35%) using supplements and herbal therapies.5,6 The typical
adult using CAM is female with a relatively higher income education level.1 A childs
use of CAM is more likely if their parents take supplements, if they are age 12 to 17,
if they have more chronic illnesses, or if conventional care is unaffordable.1
It is vital for health care providers to ask all patients about dietary supplement use.
For instance, it is not uncommon for this author to go on a home visit to a patient who
does not fit the previously mentioned characteristics and find a cabinet full of supple-
ments that was never mentioned. Many studies over the last decade substantiate find-
ings that patients are often not comfortable disclosing their supplement use to their
physician.7,8 A 2008 study demonstrated that only half of adult patients and half of
patients with chronic health problems disclosed their supplement use.9
Advising Patients About Herbs and Nutraceuticals 15


Thousands of different herbs and nutraceuticals are available to consumers. Under-

standably, care providers cannot be familiar with all of them. One can, however,
become familiar with the most popular ones and learn how to advise patients
regarding their safety, dosing, and evidence for specific conditions. According to
the most recent study from NCCAM, the most commonly-used supplements in adult
and pediatric populations include Echinacea, fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids, and
flaxseed oil. Combinations of supplements are also commonly consumed.1 Adults
also use ginseng, glucosamine, ginkgo, chondroitin, garlic, and coenzyme Q10
(CoQ10), whereas children also take prebiotics and probiotics.1 The list of the most
popular supplements changes over time.
It is also important to know why patients use these supplements. Reasons adults
and children use supplements, according to the 2007 NCCAM study, are listed in
Table 1.


Patient safety is also important when deciding how to advise patients regarding
specific therapies. This is as true for pharmaceuticals as it is for botanicals and other
dietary supplements. Lazarou and coworkers10 estimated that over 100,000 hospital-
ized patients died from adverse drug reactions in 1994 alone. It is not clear how many
people have been harmed by taking dietary supplements, but the number is thought to
be much lower. Case reports regarding supplement adverse effects often fail to

Table 1
Main reasons for dietary supplement use

Reason Percentage
2007 NCCAM Survey, adults
Back pain 17.1
Neck pain 5.9
Joint pain 5.2
Arthritis 3.5
Anxiety 2.8
Cholesterol 2.1
Head or chest cold 2
Other musculoskeletal cause 1.8
Severe headache or migraine 1.6
Insomnia 1.4
2007 NCCAM Survey, children
Back/neck pain 6.7
Head or chest cold 6.6
Anxiety/stress 4.8
Other musculoskeletal cause 4.2
Attention deficithyperactivity disorder 2.5
Insomnia 1.8

Data from Barnes PM, Bloom B, Nahin R. Complementary and alternative medicine use among
adults and children: United States, 2007. National health statistics reports #12. Hayattsville (MD):
National Center for Health Statistics; December 2008.
16 Lovett & Ganta

establish reliable cause-and-effect relationships. To report an adverse event related to

a dietary supplement, follow the instructions outlined at the Web site http://www.fda.
gov/food/dietarysupplements/alerts/ucm111110.htm. Detailed discussions about
supplement safety are found elsewhere.10,11 The tables that appear in the following
sections briefly summarize specific safety and side effect considerations for some
of the most popular remedies.


Herbal remedies come directly from different parts of plants, including the roots,
stems, flowers, and leaves. Most herbal preparations differ from pharmaceuticals in
that they have more than one chemical ingredient, not to mention one or more active
compounds, some of which may act synergistically. Some components may help to
alleviate side effects of others; many herbalists believe the whole product is much
more than its individual parts. Additionally, many other factors affect the potency
and efficacy of an herb, such as what time of year it was cultivated, where it was
grown, which species was harvested, and what part of the plant is used for
How an herbal remedy is formulated also influences its effects. Teas, which contain
water-soluble compounds, are quite different from extracts obtained using alcohol as
a solvent, or dried crude herbs. Table 2 lists different types of herbal preparations.


Understanding the type of preparation and how to read product labels are important
factors for advising patients about herbal products. Supplement labels are similar to
those for food products. Supplement labels are legally required to include the
following: a statement that the product is a supplement, the manufacturers name
and address, a complete list of ingredients, and the net contents of the product.
Good-quality products should also delineate the name of each ingredient; the
amount of each ingredient in the product; the serving size and servings per container
(note that for some products, a serving is multiple tablets or capsules, which can
mislead consumers regarding how long the product lasts); and the percent daily value
(normally nothing is established).12
Herbal remedies should also list the following: common name and plant name
of botanic, plant part used, extract ratio, quantity of starting material and extract,
standardization or marker compound, and other ingredients.
The following should be borne in mind when one reads supplement labels. A serving
size is designated by the company and is not necessarily a clinically relevant dose.
Doses need not be approved by the FDA before marketing. Plant part and extract ratio
is important because it too affects the efficacy of the product. The standardization
compound is what the industry uses as the basis for claims that each supplement
batch contains the same clinically relevant product. For example, alkylamides are
used to standardize Echinacea and hypericin is used for St Johns wort. The label
should also contain a lot number in case any safety issues arise with a specific batch
of botanicals and an expiration date at which the product is no longer as effective. The
expiration date is an estimate, because manufacturers do not all perform stability
Table 3 lists common herbs with dose examples for children and adults. Evidence
ratings are included in the third column of Table 3 for each herb.13,14
Advising Patients About Herbs and Nutraceuticals 17

Table 2
Types of herbal formulationsa

Form Processing Method Comments Examples

Crude herb The whole product is Provides all of the Ginger root (nausea)
used (flower, stem, chemical
root, and so forth) compounds from
a given plant part
Water soluble Infusion: steep herb Most toxic alkaloids Chamomile tea
extracts: simple, in hot water are water insoluble, (relaxation, colic)
easy to prepare making teas
and cheap relatively safeb
Decoction: simmer Maximum extraction Ginseng root
hard parts of plant water-soluble parts (overall tonic)
(roots) for long of plant
period of time
Macerate: soak in Minimizes loss of
warm or cold water volatile oils
Tincture: a solvent Alcohol is excellent Longer shelf-life Echinacea (common
extract; made extract for volatile Not recommended cold treatment)
using an organic oils, alkaloids, for alcoholics Osha (male energy
solvent (usually resins, gums, and A 1:5 extract means enhancement)
alcohol or glycerol) glycosides that 1 g of dried
herb is contained in
5 mL of tincture
Fluid extract A more concentrated Usually a 1:1 or 1:2 Saw palmetto
(liquid extract) version of a tincture ratio (ie, 1 g of dried (prostatic
herb is contained in hypertrophy)
1 or 2 mL of the
Solid forms Solid crude herb: Garlic (elevated
(tablets/capsules): whole herb placed cholesterol)
most popular form in capsule
in United States Solid extract: the These are more potent Gingko (circulation)
solvent in a tincture A 5:1 extract has 5 g often studied in
or fluid extract is of the original herb dry extract form
evaporated to concentrated into
concentrate solids just 1 g of solid
Different herbal formulations made from the same plant can contain different chemicals and
have different therapeutic and adverse effects. Many herbs are sold in a variety of different forms,
and dosing recommendations differ for each. Herbal remedies can also be applied topically,
smoked, or used in other forms not described here.
A typical tea recipe is 8 oz of water poured over 23 tsp of herb, steeped for 1015 minutes.
Data from Rindfleisch JA, Barrett B. Herbs and other dietary supplements. In: Rakel R, editor.
Textbook of family medicine. 7th edition. Philadelphia: WB Saunders; 2007.


Other supplements that have been gaining popularity are often referred to as nutra-
ceuticals. Nutraceuticals, or nutritional supplements, are supplements that are not
classified as vitamins, herbs, or minerals. They may be synthesized by the body or iso-
lated from foods or other animal or plant sources.13 Some claim the body requires
more nutraceuticals than it can create, and many nutraceuticals made in the human
Lovett & Ganta
Table 3
Common herbs: doses, uses, drug interactions, and cautions

Evidence Rating Cautions and

Herb Dose and Common Uses Drug Interactions Contraindications
American ginseng Tab/cap: 100200 mg (4% B ACE inhibitors, warfarin, NSAIDS, Allergy and hypersensitivity
Panax ginsenosides) Cardiovascular conditions, aspirin, digoxin, protease Avoid in pregnancy and
quinquefolius Decoction: 12 g in 150 mL hyperglycemia, immune inhibitors, nifedipine, lactation
of water system enhancement, methylphenidate, morphine,
Tea: 1.5 g in 5 oz water type 2 diabetes hormonal therapy, glucose-
Whole herb: 0.52 g lowering drugs
Chamomile Varies depending on condition C Anticoagulant medications Anaphylaxis, allergy and
For gastrointestinal conditions Common cold; eczema; (including warfarin); aspirin hypersensitivity, children,
in adults: 23 g chamomile, diarrhea in children; colic or aspirin-containing products; pregnancy and lactation,
steep in 150 mL hot water, mucositis (from cancer NSAIDs; or antiplatelet agents avoid 2 wk before dental
consume 34 times daily treatment); sleep aid/ (eg, ticlopidine, clopidogrel, or surgical procedures,
between meals sedation dipyridamole) use cautiously if driving
For children: 11.5 g of Ineffective: postoperative or operating machinery
chamomile, steeped in 150 mL sore throat
hot water, has been taken 34
times daily Infants should not
exceed 1 tsp/day; toddlers
should not exceed 0.5 C of
tea/day; a 50-lb child should
not exceed 1 C of tea/day
Garlic Tab/cap 600800 mg/day B Warfarin, protease inhibitors Allergy and hypersensitivity;
Allium sativum Hyperlipidemia thyroid drugs, antihypertensives bleeding (may increase
C Avoid use before surgery bleeding); thyroid
Antiplatelet effects, Avoid large doses during disorders
antifungal, hypertension, pregnancy and lactation
peripheral vascular
disease, tick repellant
Ineffective: diabetes type II,
Helicobacter pylori
Ginger Adults: 12 g/day in divided doses B Avoid >1 g/day in pregnancy GRAS by the FDA.
Zingiber Insufficient evidence for use in Hyperemesis gravidarum or before surgery Avoid in allergy or
officinale children C Avoid with gallstones; may hypersensitivity to
Chemotherapy-induced be a cholagogue Zingiberaceae family
nausea and vomiting, Reduced nausea from
inflammation, motion anesthetics,
sickness, vertigo cyclophosphamide
May augment anticoagulants
May antagonize antacids,
reflux drugs
Gingko balboa Varies depending on condition A Warfarin, aspirin, NSAIDS, Allergy and hypersensitivity
treated Claudication, Alzheimers antiplatelet agents Avoid with children
Tab/cap 4080 mg/day for disease, dementia Avoid during pregnancy
claudication, up to tid for B and lactation
dementia Cerebral insufficiency Should be stopped 2 wk

Advising Patients About Herbs and Nutraceuticals

Effects may take 46 wk before surgery
Echinacea Cap 501000 mg B Amoxicillin, anesthetics, Allergy to Asteraceae/
E purpurea, pallida, Upper respiratory tract antineoplastic agents, Compositae, atopic
or angustifolia infections prevention cytochrome P-450 reaction, diabetes,
Upper respiratory metabolized agents, AIDS and HIV,
infections corticosteroids, Flagyl hemochromatosis
Milk thistle Cap: 80200 mg B Inhibits cytochromes P-450, 2C6 Anaphylaxis, allergy and
Silybum marianum Tincture: 2050 mg/kg/ Chronic hepatitis and 3A4 hypersensitivity, children,
24 h IV in divided doses Cirrhosis Inhibits clearance of estrogen pregnancy and lactation,
C Protects liver from damage hormone-sensitive cancers
Acute viral hepatitis caused by alcohol, dilantin,
Amanita phalloides acetaminophen, and halothane
poisoning Protects kidneys from cisplatin
(continued on next page)

Table 3

Lovett & Ganta


Evidence Rating Cautions and

Herb Dose and Common Uses Drug Interactions Contraindications
Peppermint oil Varies depending on condition B May have hypoglycemic effect GRAS* by FDA
Menthax piperita L. treated Antispasmodic Topical preparations may May worsen:
Adults: 225 mg enteric-coated Cough increase analgesic effect GERD or achlorhydria,
peppermint oil bid for IBS15 Dyspepsia May decrease P-450 3A4 and gallbladder disease,
Children: 0.10.2 mL extract in IBS lead to increased levels of G6PD deficiency, hiatal
enteric-coated cap po tid16 Tension headache (topical) drugs metabolized by this hernia, kidney stones
enzyme Avoid topical use around
facial or chest areas in
infants or young children
because can induce
respiratory difficulties
St Johns wort Cap: 100500 mg SL A Triptans, alcohol, anesthetics, Allergy and hypersensitivity,
Hypericum Depression antianxiety drugs, antibiotics, children, pregnancy and
perforatum B warfarin, antidepressants, lactation
Somatoform disorder MAOI, SSRI, TCA, anti-DM
Saw palmetto Tab/cap: 320 mg A Warfarin, antineoplastic, Allergy and hypersensitivity,
Serenoa repens Tincture: 24 mL Enlarged prostate antihypertensives, blood children, pregnancy and
Berries: 12 g C thinners, antiandrogenic lactation, hormone-
Rectal suppository: 640 mg Androgenic alopecia agents sensitive conditions,
Hypotonic neurogenic hypertension, surgical
bladder and dental procedures,
operating heavy machinery
Valerian root 200400 mg po C Benzodiazepines, barbiturates, Allergy and hypersensitivity,
Valeriana officinalis Anxiety, depression, antidepressants, b-blockers, pregnancy and lactation,
insomnia, menopausal St Johns Wort operating heavy machinery

Abbreviations: ACE, angiotensin-converting enzyme; AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome; cap, capsule; DM, diabetes mellitus; FDA, Food and Drug
Administration; GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disease; GRAS, generally recognized as safe; HIV, human immunodeficiency virus; IBS, irritable bowel syndrome;
MAOI, monoamine oxidase inhibitor; NSAID, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug; SL, sublingual; SSRI, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor; tab, tablet; TCA,
tricyclic antidepressant.
Data from Natural Standard, The authority on integrative medicine. Available at:; and Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.
Available at: Both accessed July 5, 2009.
Advising Patients About Herbs and Nutraceuticals 21

body do decrease with age; however, the value of supplementing with these
substances is often unclear.
One popular nutraceutical is CoQ10. CoQ10 is an antioxidant, membrane
stabilizer, and cofactor in many metabolic pathways of the body. One action of
CoQ10 is to produce energy in the form of ATP in the mitochondria of cells. Hu-
mans have the highest levels of CoQ10 in the first 20 years of life, and then it
decreases with age. Additionally, some conditions, such as heart failure, further
deplete CoQ10. Some authorities suggest supplementing the bodys ability to
make CoQ10 as one ages, or in cases of heart failure or statin-induced myalgia. 17
CoQ10 helped some heart failure patients feel better but did not change
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a nutraceutical naturally secreted by the human
adrenal gland. DHEA is a precursor for female and male sex hormones. DHEA
decreases after age 30 and may be low in people with diabetes, anorexia, end-stage
kidney disease, AIDS, and the critically ill. Certain drugs also decrease DHEA (insulin,
opiates, corticosteroids, and danazol).14 Theoretically, supplementing with DHEA
could improve symptoms for people with decreased levels. Most studies on
DHEA, however, have been short-term, and concern exists that supplementing with
DHEA longer than 6 months or in higher than studied amounts (50100 mg daily) could
increase the risk of prostate, breast, and other hormone-sensitive cancers.
Supplementing with DHEA can also increase androgen levels and may adversely
affect fetal and infant development; DHEA should not be used during pregnancy or
Omega-3 fatty acids are among the most popular and effective nutraceuticals.
Omega-3 fatty acids improve cardiac health by decreasing triglycerides and lowering
overall mortality following a myocardial infarction.17,19,20 The best source of omega-3
fatty acids is fish oil. Some vegetarian sources, such as flaxseed, are promoted as
good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. The predominant omega-3 fatty acid in flaxseed
is a-linolenic acid, whereas the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are predominately doco-
sahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid. The human body converts a-linolenic
acid to docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid, but only in small amounts.
Flaxseed oil is not as beneficial as fish oil. When flaxseed oil is taken without the seed,
the beneficial effects of fiber and lignans, such as improvements in cholesterol, are
Glucosamine and chondroitin are popular nutraceuticals for the treatment of pain
from osteoarthritis. Many older studies supported the use of glucosamine for the treat-
ment of pain from mild to moderate osteoarthritis but did not show a great effect from
chondroitin.21 A recent study by the NIH called the Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis
Intervention Trial suggested that the combination of glucosamine hydrochloride and
chondroitin sulfate decreases pain and prevents progression of pain in patients with
moderate to severe knee pain but not those with mild pain.22 Physiologically, it makes
sense that both chondroitin and glucosamine could be beneficial. Both glucosamine
and chondroitin are involved with the formation, retention, and repair of cartilage within
joints. In some studies, glucosamine sulfate has proved to be more effective than
glucosamine hydrochloride.14 Many integrative providers suggest a 3-month trial of
glucosamine sulfate at a dose of 500 mg three times daily for 3 months; the
supplement can be continued if the patient believes it is helpful and the cost is not
Table 4 lists common nutraceuticals, uses, common side effects, and drug interac-
tions. Evidence ratings are included in the third column of Table 4 for each
Lovett & Ganta
Table 4
Popular nutraceuticals: uses, side effects, and interactions

Evidence Rating
Name Dosea and Common Uses Side Effects Drug Interactions
CoQ10 100225 mg soft gel A Gastrointestinal, allergic rash May increase effects of
For capsules/day CoQ10 enzyme deficiency in fewer than 1% hypotensive agents
hypertension18 B Side effects minimized by Antagonizes warfarin and
Hypertension (decreases blood dividing doses >100 mg into other anticoagulants
pressure by 1618/10 mm Hg) two to three doses daily Some drugs lower CoQ10 in
C the body, including some
Mitochondrial antipsychotics, b-blockers,
encephalomyopathies, sulfonylureas, metformin,
cardiomyopathy, congestive some statins, and some TCAs
heart failure, HIV-AIDS,
migraine headache, muscular
dystrophy, after myocardial
Parkinsons disease, periodontal
disease, male infertility,
statin-induced myopathy
Ineffective: diabetes,
Huntingtons disease
Chondroitin 400 mg tid or 1200 mg/day A May increase asthma symptoms May increase effect of
Insufficient Full effect may take several Decrease progression of Photosensitization, dyspepsia, anticoagulation medications
evidence weeks osteoarthritis (knee, low back, nausea, diarrhea, (NSAIDs, aspirin, warfarin, and
for use with Not clear what dose should finger, knees, hip, tibiofibular, constipation, elevated liver so forth)
children be used in combination femotibial) and enzymes, headache, edema, Structurally similar to
with glucosamine or if temporomandibular joint hair loss, decreased platelet heparin-avoid in pregnancy
both are needed disease function
Treatment detrussor instability/
urinary incontinence
Ineffective: delayed
muscle soreness
DHEA Adrenal insufficiency: B Hirsuitism, abnormal menses, Many food, drug, and
2050 mg/day Adrenal insufficiency, emotional changes, headache, supplement interactions exist
Depression: 3090 mg/day depression, obesity, systemic and insomnia in women Levels decreased by some drugs:
Obesity: 25100 mg/day lupus erythematosis Acne and aggressive behavior insulin, steroids, opiates,
Systemic lupus C DHEA can cause elevated levels danazol
erythematosis: 20200 AIDS/HIV, cardiovascular disease, sex hormones and may Levels increased by other drugs:
mg/day chronic fatigue syndrome, increase the risk of prostate, calcium channel blockers,
Crohns disease, fibromyalgia, breast, ovarian, and other alprazolam
labor induction, menopausal hormone-sensitive cancers May alter effectiveness of drugs:
symptoms, psoriasis, increased coagulation
rheumatoid arthritis, sexual (decreased effect of warfarin,
dysfunction aspirin, and so forth)
Ineffective: memory, muscle Alters cytochrome P metabolism
strength Decreases effects of methadone
Decreases protective effect of

Advising Patients About Herbs and Nutraceuticals

tamoxifen in breast cancer
Monitor thyroid, cholesterol,
Glucosamine 500 mg tid for 6090 days A Nausea, reflux, epigastric pain, Contraindications: allergy to
Glucosamine is Not enough evidence to Pain from mild to moderate diarrhea, drowsiness, insomnia shellfish/iodine
a natural part recommend in children osteoarthritis of the knee May temporarily increase Drug interactions: may elevate
of healthy under 18 or during (decrease 0%20% from blood pressure glucose levels but taking for
cartilage It pregnancy or baseline) Palpitations up to 3 years does not
is not yet clear breastfeeding B significantly alter glucose or
whether Osteoarthritis in other joints; lipid
glucosamine decrease progression of Can increase effect of Coumadin:
sulfate osteoarthritis monitor INR in anticoagulated
is equivalent C patients
to or Rheumatoid arthritis, chronic Diuretics (eg, furosemide) may
superior to venous insufficiency, diabetes, increase side effects
glucosamine temporomandibular joint Certain supplements may
hydrochloride disorders improve efficacy (vitamin C,
Ineffective: bromelain, chondroitin
hypercholesterolemia sulfate, manganese, fish oil)
(continued on next page)

Lovett & Ganta
Table 4

Evidence Rating
Name Dosea and Common Uses Side Effects Drug Interactions
Fish oil/omega-3 16 g/d A Halitosis, heartburn, Doses >3 g daily can inhibit blood
fatty acids Cardiovascular benefits: dyspepsia, loose stools, coagulation and increase risk of
Reduces triglycerides (25%50%) nausea, rash bleeding may inhibit immune
(slight elevation HDL, LDL); Avoid if shellfish allergy response
decreases blood Avoid high doses fatty High doses may inhibit platelets:
pressure systolic/diastolic 3.4/2 fish (swordfish, king use caution when using with
Patients with h/o myocardial mackerel, tilefish, and other medications and herbs
infarction: decrease sudden farm-raised salmon) (toxins: that increase bleeding risk
death, overall mortality, risk mercury, PCBs, dioxins) May lower blood pressure and
of fatal myocardial infarction Freezing, using enteric- have additive effect with
B coated forms, or taking with antihypertensives
Rheumatoid arthritis: improve meals can minimize side Some contraceptives may interfere
pain symptoms (morning effects with triglyceride-lowering
stiffness and joint tenderness) Large amounts of mercury in effect
Eating 2 servings fatty fish fish can cause multiple
weekly decreases risk of neurologic problems
developing coronary artery Young children should
disease limit consumption no more
Improves response to than 2 oz of fish weekly
antidepressants in those with In pregnancy and
depression and bipolar breastfeeding avoid certain
disorder, including children fish and limit fatty fish to
May improve cognitive function 12 oz per week or about
and behavior in children aged 34 servings/wk
812 years with ADD
May decrease risk of Alzheimers
disease, certain cancers (colon,
rectal, breast, ovarian,
oropharyngeal, esophageal)
Flax 4050 g/day C Bloating, flatulence, May decrease platelet
Flaxseed oil contains Decreases cholesterol (LDL by abdominal pain, aggregation and increase risk of
only the a-linolenic 5%9%, total cholesterol by constipation, diarrhea, bleeding when used with aspirin
acid component 8%18%) nausea, dyspepsia and warfarin
of flaxseed, and Improves menopausal High dietary intake May decrease absorption of
not the fiber or symptoms (decreases hot a-linolenic acid may acetaminophen, ketoprofen,
lignan componentsa flashes by 35% and night increase risk prostate metoprolol, furosemide
sweats by 44%) cancer (evidence Antibiotics may limit beneficial
Atherosclerosis, ADD, breast conflicting) effect of lignans in flaxseed
cancer, hyperglycemia, Drink adequate amounts of May lower blood glucose and
lupus nephritis, obesity, water when supplementing increase risk of hypoglycemia
prostate cancer with flaxseed with diabetes medications
Lycopene Depends on what No grade A or B evidence Diarrhea, dyspepsia, bloating, May interfere with platelet
A carotenoid present condition being C avoid if known allergy to aggregation leading to
in many human treated Epidemiologic data suggest tomatoes or lycopene increased bleeding effect with

Advising Patients About Herbs and Nutraceuticals

tissues Lycopene Insufficient protective effect against May decrease total medications that have similar
is an antioxidant evidence to use numerous cancers, although cholesterol and LDL, effect (NSAIDS, aspirin,
and antiproliferative in children a recent study does not increase HDL, may Coumadin, and so forth)
substance support this for breast or decrease blood pressure, Bile acid sequestrants and statins
prostate cancer may decrease platelet may decrease lycopene
Lycopene may be protective aggregation, may worsen May interfere with tests for
for macular degenerative symptoms of gastric ulcers prostate cancer
disease, coronary artery May interact with isoflavones
disease, hypertension,
gingivitis, infertility, and
Ineffective: evidence does not
support lycopenes use for
cell-mediated immune
stimulation or lung
function after exercise
(continued on next page)

Lovett & Ganta
Table 4

Evidence Rating
Name Dosea and Common Uses Side Effects Drug Interactions
Melatonin Jet lag: 5 mg A Diarrhea, headache, Drug interactions: may decrease
A naturally occurring melatonin started Melatonin treats jet lag abdominal discomfort, prothrombin time and the
neurohormone made on the day of travel B drowsiness if taken effectiveness of warfarin
in the human pineal close to target sleep Treats insomnia in adults, during daytime There May decrease blood pressure
gland from the amino time at new elderly, and children can be an allergic May elevate blood sugar and
acid tryptophan destination Take Enhances sleep in reaction to melatonin decrease insulin sensitivity
Melatonin increases every 24 h for several healthy adults (skin rash, autoimmune Safety: melatonin is likely
during dark hours days hepatitis), fatigue, safe in doses of 5 mg
and decreases Insomnia in adults and dizziness, headache, daily or less over 2 y;
during daylight children: doses from mood changes, melatonin is not safe for
0.15 mg have been gynocomastia, women trying to become
used nightly for decreased sperm pregnant or those who
treating insomnia count and mobility, are pregnant; melatonin
Some studies have may cause changes in may cause abnormal
shown no difference intraocular pressures clotting, especially with
in efficacy patients taking warfarin;
between low and overdose may cause
high doses disorientation
Probiotics To reduce antibiotic- A Most probiotics Not enough information available
Various strains have associated diarrhea: Decrease adverse effects made from milk;
been studied; more adults, 100 g of of antibiotics including caution when milk
research needed probiotic drink bid antibiotic-associated allergy is present or
regarding specific Continue drink 1 wk diarrhea24 use vegan product
strains and doses for after the antibiotics May decrease growth of May produce excessive
various conditions finished 1 capsule of Clostridium difficile and gas that decreases
Most common strains 109 colony-forming antibiotic resistance over time
include Lactobacillus, unit is a standard dose Breast-feeding and May increase mortality
Saccharomyces, and To reduce viral pregnant women who in severe cases of acute
Bifidobacterium gastroenteritis: take probiotics decrease pancreatitis
children, 324 mo, the risk of their infants
Saccharomyces developing ectopic
boulardii for 6 d eczema23
Children 247 mo, Decrease side effects

Advising Patients About Herbs and Nutraceuticals

Escherichia coli Nissle Helicobacter pylori
1917 (EcN) solution treatment (bloating,
daily depending on diarrhea, taste disturbance)
childs weight or L Decrease load of H pylori
rhamnosus strain and may help eradicate
GG, 1 capsule/day it more completely
Evidence exists for numerous
conditions including cirrhosis,
colorectal cancer, dental
caries, viral diarrhea
prevention in children and
adults, reduction of
symptoms from irritable
bowel syndrome, treatment
or prevention of diarrhea
associated with radiation
therapy, decrease recurrent
chronic sinusitis, prevention
and treatment pouchitis in
patients with ulcerative colitis
(continued on next page)

Lovett & Ganta
Table 4

Evidence Rating
Name Dosea and Common Uses Side Effects Drug Interactions
SAMe 6001200 mg daily in B Safety: Drug interactions
(S-adenosyl-L- divided doses for Decreases pain from osteoarthritis 400600 mg has been Insulin: SAMe may
methionine) 3 mo in patients C safely used for 2 y cause hypoglycemia
It is formed in the with osteoarthritis Improvement in depression Higher doses (800 TCAs: SAMe may cause
body by methionine and fibromyalgia 1600 mg) are safe serotonin syndrome
and adenosine over 1.5 mo
triphosphate May induce hypomania
SAMe is a primary or mania in bipolar
methyl donor in patients
many reactions Not studied in children
within the human Side effects: nausea, vomiting,
body diarrhea, heartburn, skin rash,
decreased blood sugar,
insomnia, psychomotor
Soy Soy extract: A Antibiotics, warfarin, Allergy and
5001000 mg/day Dietary source of protein antidiarrheal, antiestrogens, hypersensitivity,
Lipid-lowering effects antidiabetes agents hormone sensitive
B malignancies
Diarrhea in children

Abbreviations: AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome; ADD, attention deficit disorder; CFU, colony-forming units; CoQ10, coenzyme Q10; DHEA, dehydroe-
piandrosterone; HDL, high-density lipoprotein; HIV, human immunodeficiency virus; LDL, low-density lipoprotein; NSAID, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug;
TCA, tricyclic antidepressant.
Suggested doses are for specific conditions for each nutraceutical. Please see specific source for more detailed discussions regarding dose and other conditions.
Data from Natural Standard, The authority on integrative medicine. Available at:; and Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.
Available at: Both accessed July 5, 2009.
Advising Patients About Herbs and Nutraceuticals 29

Box 1
Sources for additional information

Brinckmann J, Wollschlaeger B. In: Blumenthal M, editor. The ABC guide to herbs. 1st edition.
Austin (TX): American Botanical Council; 2003.
Rakel D, editor. Integrative medicine. 2nd edition. Philadelphia: WB Saunders; 2007.
Rindfleisch JA, Barrett B. Herbs and other dietary supplements. In: Rakel E, editor. Textbook of
family medicine. 7th edition. Philadelphia: WB Saunders; 2007.
Web sites
American Botanic Council (free access):
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (free access): http://nccam.nih.
National Institute of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements (free access):
Naturaldatabase (requires subscription):
Natural Standard (requires subscription):
Food and Drug Administration: Dietary Supplement Information:


Often, the key with advising patients regarding dietary supplements is to know where
to look up specific information. Box 1 shows a list of several helpful, evidence-based
books and Web sites.


Herbals and nutraceuticals are part of many patients daily lives. Many of these prod-
ucts show some benefit, but providers must be mindful of safety issues, including
supplement-drug interactions, adverse effects, and product quality. Knowing about
different herbal formulations, how to read supplement labels, and where to find addi-
tional information about dietary supplements enables health care providers to better
counsel their patients regarding safe and appropriate use.


The authors would like to thank Adam Rindfleisch, MD for editing and Kathy Brunjes,
MLIS, AHIP - Director Gerrish true Health Sciences Library at CMMC for assistance
with final editing of sources.


1. Barnes PM, Bloom B, Nahin R. Complimentary and alternative medicine use

among adults and children: United States 2007. National health statistics reports
#12. Hayattsville (MD): National Center for Health Statistics; December 2008.
2. Rindfleisch JA, Barrett B. Herbs and other dietary supplements. In: Rakel R,
editor. Textbook of family medicine. 7th edition. Philadelphia: WB Saunders/Elsev-
ier; 2007. p. 24366.
30 Lovett & Ganta

3. Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), Public Law
103-417, 21 USC 3419.
4. United States Pharmacopeia. Available at:
Accessed May 15, 2009.
5. Kelly JP, Kaufman DW, Kelley K, et al. Recent trends in use of herbal and other
natural products. Arch Intern Med 2005;165(3):2816.
6. Rogers G. Herb consumers attitudes, preferences profiled in new market study.
Her Geneal 2005;65:601.
7. Blendon RJ, DesRoches CM, Benson JM, et al. Americans views on the use and
regulation of dietary supplements. Arch Intern Med 2001;161:80510.
8. Eisenberg DM, Kessler RC, Van Rampay MI, et al. Perceptions about comple-
mentary therapies relative to conventional therapies among adults who use
both: results from a national survey. Ann Intern Med 2001;135:34451.
9. Mehta DH, Gardiner PM, Phillips RS, et al. Herbal and dietary supplement disclo-
sure to health care providers by individuals with chronic conditions. J Altern
Complement Med 2008;14(10):12639.
10. Lazarou J, Pomerance BH, Corey PN. Incidence of adverse drug reactions in hospi-
talized patients: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. JAMA 1998;279(15):12005.
11. Brinker F. Herb contraindications and drug interactions. 3rd edition. Sandy (OR):
Eclectic Publications; 2001.
12. Low Dog T, Barrett M. Botanical medicine: a primer for physicians. University of
Arizona. Available at: Accessed May
20, 2009.
13. Natural Standard. The authority on integrative medicine. Available at: http:// Accessed July 5, 2009.
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15. Cappello G, Spezzaferro M, Grossi L, et al. Peppermint oil (Mintoil) in the treat-
ment of irritable bowel syndrome: a prospective double blind placebo-controlled
randomized trial. Dig Liver Dis 2007;39(6):5306.
16. Kline RM, Kline JJ, Di Palma J, et al. Enteric-coated, pH-dependent peppermint
oil capsules for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome in children. J Pediatr
17. Burleson K. Coronary artery disease. In: Rakel D, editor. Integrative medicine.
2nd edition. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier; 2007. p. 295308.
18. Rosenfeldt FL, Haas SJ, Harris CL, et al. Coenzyme Q10 in the treatment of hyper-
tension: a meta-analysis of the clinical trials. J Hum Hypertens 2007;21(4):297306.
19. Bucher HC, Hengstler P, Schindler C, et al. N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in
coronary heart disease: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J
Med 2002;112:298304.
20. Din JN, Newby DE, Flapan AD. Omega 3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease:
fishing for a natural treatment. BMJ 2004;328:305.
21. Clegg D, Reda DJ, Harris CL, et al. Glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and the two
in combination for painful knee osteoarthritis. N Engl J Med 2006;354:795808.
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sulfate on the progression of knee osteoarthritis: a report from the glucosamine/
chondroitin arthritis intervention trial. Arthritis Rheum 2008;58(10):318391.
23. Rosenfeldt V, Benfeldt E, Nielson SD, et al. Effect of probiotic Lactobacillus strains in
children with atopic dermatitis. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2003;111:38995.
24. Van Niel CW, Feudtner C, Garrison MM, et al. Lactobacillus therapy for acute
infectious diarrhea in children: a meta-analysis. Pediatrics 2002;109:67884.